The face is integral to what makes us human. When the face has been destroyed through trauma or disease, surgeons must consider both form (how the skin and the underlying musculature looks) and function of remaining tissue - are all of the major components, such as lips, jaws, eyelids, nose, etc intact?
While there are many excellent plastic and reconstructive techniques to address any one of these deficits, a patient who is missing more than one facial component may not have enough of his or her own tissues to rebuild all of the intricate structures of the face. In these cases, the patient may have better outcomes using transplanted tissues from a deceased donor.
Face transplants are completed in parallel surgeries, involving two teams of surgeons: one to remove the tissue from the donor, and another to re-implant the tissues in the recipient. Because the tissues being used are from the same source as their destination, the fit of bones, skin and muscles is much better than when using tissues (such as skin from the back or bone from the fibula) from elsewhere in the patient’s own body. In the face transplants done to date, patients have regained their ability to eat, have been freed from extensive scars that made it impossible to move their faces, and have regained their sense of smell and the ability to close their eyes without help.
Transplants are not, however, without risk. Face transplant patients need to take medications to suppress their immune systems, to keep from rejecting their grafts. Some of these medications have side effects that are difficult to live with. The medications can have a significant cost associated with them that may not be reimbursed by insurance. The choice of whether to repair facial tissues using more traditional techniques or to consider reconstructive transplant of the face is a decision to be made by the patient and his or her surgeons.
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If you have suffered a traumatic injury or illness and are interested in exploring reconstructive transplant as an option, please contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment.